Bacteria change shape to adapt to antibiotics: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on February 01, 2021

Certain kinds of bacteria change their shape in order to adapt to long-term exposure to antibiotics, according to the study published in the journal Nature Physics.

The study stated that the bacteria tend to change their characteristics as a fundamental biological process to better fit their environment.

This new research led by Carnegie Mellon University’s Assistant Professor of Physics Shiladitya Banerjee, suggests that antibiotics have long helped people prevent and cure bacterial infections. However, many species of bacteria have increasingly been able to adapt to resist antibiotic treatments.

Banerjee’s research at Carnegie Mellon and in his previous position at the University College London (UCL) has carried out the study to understand the mechanics and physics behind various cellular processes. The common theme of his work has been that the shape of a cell can have major effects on its reproduction and survival.

Banerjee, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Chicago, decided to carry out an extensive study on how exposure to antibiotics affects the growth and morphologies of the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus, a commonly used model organism.

“Using single-cell experiments and theoretical modeling, we demonstrate that cell shape changes act as a feedback strategy to make bacteria more adaptive to surviving antibiotics,” Banerjee said in the study.

The researchers found that the bacteria dramatically changed their shape by becoming wider and more curved, especially when exposed to less than lethal doses of the antibiotic chloramphenicol. “These shape changes enable bacteria to overcome the stress of antibiotics and resume fast growth,” Banerjee said.

The researchers concluded that these physical changes allow the bacteria to attain a higher curvature and lower surface-to-volume ratio, which would allow fewer antibiotic particles to pass through their cellular surfaces as they grow.

“This insight is of great consequence to human health and will likely stimulate numerous further molecular studies into the role of cell shape on bacterial growth and antibiotic resistance,” Banerjee said.

Published on February 01, 2021

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